(Photo: AP / Wade Payne)
An evangelical Christian family from Germany that fled to the United States to be able to homeschool their children has filed an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court against a lower court's ruling that they do not qualify for a political asylum.
The Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), which is representing Uwe and Hannelore Romeike, has filed a petition with the Supreme Court to hear Romeike v. Holder, in which the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in April agreed with the Obama Administration's decision to revoke asylum granted to the family in 2010.
"The United States should be a place of asylum for those who are persecuted because of their decision to follow their core religious beliefs," HSLDA Chairman and principal author of the petition, Michael Farris, said in a statement.
"Parents, not the government, decide first how children are educated," added Farris, who filed the petition Thursday. "Germany's notorious persecution of families who homeschool violates their own obligations to uphold human rights standards and must end."
The German Christian couple did not agree with some of the teaching children receive in public schools in their country. They began homeschooling, which is illegal in Germany. They sought political asylum in the United States and immigrated to Tennessee with HSLDA's help after paying about $10,000 in fines and watching the police apprehend their children and take them to the public school.
The Romeike family was granted asylum by the original immigration judge, Lawrence O. Burman, under the Federal Immigration and Naturalization Act (INA) on the premise that Germany's national policy of suppressing homeschooling violated their religious faith and that German authorities were improperly motivated to suppress homeschoolers as a social group.
However, the Sixth Circuit six month ago rejected Burman's findings, stating that Germany's harsh treatment of homeschoolers did not amount to persecution and that the German authorities were not motivated by an improper purpose. In the case, the U.S. Justice Department argued that the freedom to choose to educate one's own children is not a fundamental right.
"In virtually all other circuits, the Romeikes' chances of success would have been decisively higher," Farris argued. "But in this case, the Sixth Circuit created a new standard that dramatically departs from its own, as well as the Supreme Court's, jurisprudence in U.S. asylum law. The Supreme Court needs to settle this area of law."
The HSLDA brief argues that the German Supreme Court's explicit approval for unequal treatment of homeschoolers for religious or philosophical reasons clearly violates human rights standards that the United States must recognize.
HSLDA Director of International Relations Michael Donnelly drew attention to the seizing of the children of another German couple, Dirk and Petra Wunderlich, by German authorities, which sough "outrageous jail terms" because of homeschooling.
"Germany's repression of homeschooling freedom is infecting other European nations and our country should send a message that the United States will provide a refuge for victims of persecution even from ostensibly free democratic countries like Germany," Donnelly said.
The Wunderlichs were reunited with their four children last month, more than 20 days after armed police officers raided their home and forcibly took the children. At the time of the raid, the parents pleaded with the police saying they were willing to send their kids to public school if the police would not take them away. The police told them it was too late.
HSLDA, believes that international pressure led to the court to send the Wunderlich children back to their parents.
The petition regarding the Romeikes places considerable reliance on the statements of Germany's highest courts that explain that the purpose of the repression of homeschoolers was to prevent "religious and philosophical minorities" from developing into "parallel societies."
A nation may require compulsory attendance and may impose reasonable rules related to educational quality, but no nation may exercise philosophical control over a child's education contrary to the parent's beliefs, HSLDA said. "These human rights protections were written in response to Germany's practices in the Nazi era," Farris said. "It is impossible to distinguish the German desire for philosophical conformity today from that of the 1930s. Children do not belong to any government in any decade."
The White House posted a response to a petition to stop the deportation of the Romeikes, which received 127,258 signatures, in August. The White House does not respond to issues before the courts, the response said, but they understand why parents would value the freedom to homeschool.